Civil Immunity for Self-Defense

Posted 8 months ago — Ooley Law Blog

Do your state’s laws give immunity from prosecution and/or lawsuit if one’s actions are found to have been reasonable and necessary by reason of self defense? What is the court process to access those protections?

 

If your state does not have a stand your ground law, what can the citizen who uses force in self defense do to avoid prosecution, or avoid conviction, or a lawsuit seeking damages?

 

In addition to potential criminal liability for the use of force, there is also the potential for civil liability. However, in 2019, Indiana passed House Enrolled Act 1284 which provides immunity from civil suits to people who have used justifiable force in self-defense. This bill has been codified as Indiana Code § 34-30-31-1.

 

Before Indiana Code § 34-30-31-1 went into effect, individuals could be successful in their assertion of self-defense under criminal statutory standards but still face civil liability under civil statutory standards. Thus, individuals could be free from jail time/criminal liability but could be liable for paying the family or the  criminal who was shot during the use of force encounter. Thus, the passing of this act now allows for protection from both criminal and civil liability when using justifiable force in self-defense.

 

The law also provides for the possibility of early dismissal of a civil lawsuit based upon the creation of a rebuttable presumption that use of force is justified if a defendant was not prosecuted for the use of force. Additionally, the new law requires a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to a defendant when the justified use of force immunity is successfully raised in a civil case. Hopefully, this law will end instances where criminals or their families sue victims of crime when the victim lawfully defends the innocent.

 

If you are interested in the history of this legislation, it stems from an incident out of Ohio County, Indiana, where Kystie Phillips heroically shot a man attacking an Indiana conservation officer. The Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor declined to criminally charge Phillips because Phillips had lawfully acted in defense of a third person. Nonetheless, Phillips was sued by the family of the man shot. Because of this case, House Enrolled Act 1284 was proposed and eventually passed into law, and the lawsuit against Kystie Phillips was dismissed.